The Vatican's Shift of its Missionary Policy in the Twentieth Century: The Mission
of the Augustinian Fathers of the Assumption in Manchuria.
Abstract: The apostolic letters of Popes Benedict XV and Pius XI written in the years between
wars brought a renovate understanding of the Christian Missions in Asian countries. Both
letters, Maximum Illud in 1919 and Rerum Ecclesiae in 1926 set forth a revolutionary change
within the missionary Church in Asia. This paper, based on primary and secondary European
sources, analyzes the new elements and guidelines found in these documents as well as how
they changed the way of evangelizing heathen countries. As a result, I have studied the
mission of the Augustinian Fathers of the Assumption in Manchuria during its first years
(1935-1940) as an example of the relative achievement of the new policies pursued by the
Vatican in the Asian states.
Total words: 7,107.
After the “incident of 1931” Manchuria became a puppet state controlled by the
Japanese government. Manchukuo, as it was known during the Japanese rule, was a key area in the blueprint for extension of the Japanese Empire. Therefore, Japan was interested in both
1promoting industrialization and colonization of the country recently seized.
One of the consequences of the incident of 1931 was that Japan quit the League of Nations, becoming independent of the League’s attitude and warnings. However, it is important
to highlight that Japan had a positive attitude toward Christian congregations and religious groups in Manchukuo. In the past, the Catholic missionaries had been considered by the Japanese authority as a threat to their national autonomy because of the historical association between Christian priests and European countries. Eventually, I could see the Manchu tolerance toward Christian missions –especially Catholics after 1931- which shows a change in the identity of religious missions themselves. It followed that missions were no longer directly linked to the western imperialism nor apparently persecuted.
The aim of this paper is to give a new insight into the understanding of the relative acceptance of the Catholic missions in Manchuria during the Japanese occupation. In my opinion, a major change in the missionary policy came from Rome; therefore, I will focus this article on the letters Maximun Ilud written by Pope Benedict XV and Rerum Ecclesiae by Pope Pius XI.
Along with the study of these letters I will demonstrate how the message from the Vatican was heard and practised using the example of the Augustinian Fathers of the Assumption in Manchuria (1935 – 1952) during their first years (1935- 1940). The primary source that I will use
to study their missionary activity in the region is the correspondence that Assumptionists held with France between 1935 – 1940, which was published in the journals L?Assomption and Lettre
à la dispersion.
1. Mission and colonialism.
By the end of the nineteenth century, the missionary activity promoted directly by the Vatican aimed mainly at the Christian churches in the Near East and the new communities of immigrants in North America. The missions in heathen places such as those in Africa, Asia, and
2Oceania were put off in the Roman files and were generally promoted by the colonist states.
The reforms to the Curia executed by Pius X in June, 1908 can be considered a major turning point in this situation. These reforms wrapped the activity of the Propaganda Fide and retargeted it to the non-Christian regions, relieving its activity of the management of the missions in North
3America and in the Near East.
Moreover, the execution of these reforms resulted in the Superiors of every congregation and religious orders gaining more participation in the work of their people; thus, more than ever were they interested in the work of the missions, even when their missionaries were still
4subordinate to Propaganda Fide.
Also, the charisma of the first popes of the Twentieth Century played an important role in the reshaping of the Catholic missions. During the pontificates of Leo XIII and Pius X, the missions in Africa and Asia grew in the number of manpower as well as in the amount of material help. The open-minded personality of Leo XIII allowed him to have a good relationship with non-Christian authorities such as the empress of China, to whom he once thanked for her
5benevolence toward the foreign missionaries.
However, by this time the ease with which the faith spread among the non-Christian places depended on the western colonial countries which managed either directly or indirectly a specific region. This meant that the Christian missionaries implicitly formed part of a colonial
6system. Unfortunately, most of them were not aware of the political role that they were playing.
In China, for instance, the missionary work extended as fast as the colonization. Moreover, the missions became stronger because of the treaties signed between the western
countries and the local government. These agreements gave the Church not only protection and tolerance, but also economic and social advantages. In 1912, the Catholic Church in China counted fourteen million members –among them there were 724 native priests- which is double
that of the end of the nineteenth century.
The Japanese Constitution of 1889 established freedom of belief, and Leo XIII started a
7friendly relationship with the imperial court. The first results of the challenging and intensive
8missionary work in Japan were seen when in 1891 Rome established the hierarchy in Tokyo.
However, by the end of the century the Catholic Church in the archipelago witnessed how all its hopes and projects could not be carried out; and once again the country found it to be very important to express its own identity by supporting the national religion, Shintoism, while at the same time attacking foreign beliefs.
From my standpoint, the missionary activity under Popes Leo XIII and Pius X had a great importance due to the fact that they spread new Christian communities around the world. Nevertheless, those communities were still dependent on the colonial system, so they were object of prejudgments and public attacks from nationalistic groups. In the end, the task which the pontiffs had not succeeded in carrying out was the formation of a high-level native clergy which could wield the administration of the local churches and at the same time free the new communities of the harassment of nationalistic groups.
2. Building a young Church.
World War I represented a clear step backward for the missions in non-Christian countries since they had a strong relationship with western countries and during the war most of
9them could not have an impartial behaviour. The war meant a very high price –both material
and spiritual- for the church and its missions among the heathen. After peace was signed, a reorientation in the Catholic missions was necessary. Not only trying to unfasten the missionary labour from the western countries, but also emancipating the new local Christian communities
10from the foreign control.
During the papacy of Benedict XV and Pius XI a time of deep and ample change in the overseas missionary activity can be noticed. This period is marked by a new approach to the
native Christian communities: it was closer to their interests and its aim was to point toward the creation of autonomous -from foreign states- churches.
World War I left problems and challenges to be solved by the Church. The situation resulted in decrease in economic support from Europe and the weakening of missionaries as a
11consequence of the mandatory physical participation of priests in the war.
However, the war caused more harm than not in the spiritual sphere. The fact that the western countries, which represented the Christianity overseas, fought against one another gave the natives a negative impression, which in turn became the obvious reason for the latter to reject the religion. The Church replied to this new challenge by calling for healthier relationships between the European countries and the missions, trying to free them from the weight of
12imperialism and colonialism.
Pope Benedict XV made an important step forward by changing the attitude of the Catholic Church toward missions. His work, in the missionary field, is characterized as a major effort to break away from the influence of European powers and to reshape the theology. In his encyclical Maximum Illud (1919), the pontiff embraces three topics that are the basic conditions for the progress of the missionary activity: the duties of the mission chiefs; the duties of
13missionaries; and the duties of the rest of the laymen in the world.
According to Maximum Illud, the mission chiefs, such as bishops, vicars or prefects, are primarily to commit themselves to love the mission and to be devoted to it. Their men are called upon to do hard work trying all the time to create new missionary posts and houses.
(..)the preaching of the gospel can be brought more immediately and more effectively to
everyone in an area if more mission stations and posts are established as soon as it is possible
to do so. Then, when the time comes to divide the mission, these will be ready to serve as centers 14for new Vicariates and Prefectures.
In addition to that, in order to fulfil this objective, the mission chiefs should work on increasing the number of their collaborators –other missionary institutions- while focusing on
consecrated people who might work in schools, orphanages, and so on. With the strong determination to achieve this goal, Benedict XV addresses the mission chiefs asking them to maintain the best relationship with their missionary neighbours, making it easier to solve any
15future problems between them.
Also, the Pope calls for creating more quality institutions which would bring into being more skilful native clergy who could control the local churches. In this sense the foundation of local Seminaries proved to be essential.
(...)We are ordering the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith to apply
remedies adapted to the various regions of the world, and to see to the founding of seminaries
for both individual regions and group of dioceses. Where seminaries already exist, this
Congregation will see to it that they are adequately administered. However, the task to which
the Congregation is to devote itself with particular care is the supervision of the growth and 16development of the local clergy in our Vicariates and other missions.
Furthermore, the pontiff reminds them about the importance of well prepared missionary corpus where a deep knowledge of the local language was mandatory in order to support further achievements. As far as missionaries are concerned, Maximum Illud highlights the necessity of a holy life which is characterized by humble modesty, obedience and a great trust in God (to facilitate the new tasks that might appear along the way). In other words, the message given by the pontiff is that the missionary clergy are committed to sacrifice their lives to successfully fulfil their duties, while spreading “salvation” among all the inhabitants. Furthermore, from the rest of
Catholics in the world, Benedict XV demands a higher compromise with the missions. Above all, he calls for their pray "Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask
17for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.",; and then fostering missionary vocations
Concisely, Benedict XV opened the Missionary Church as well as causing the development of missionaries to become the most important issue for the Church. Consequently, next to spreading faith, cultivation and encouragement towards the formation of local churches became equally significant. Now more important than just spreading the faith is to cultivate and
19encourage the formation of local churches.
Pius XI, the successor of Benedict XV, is a good follower of the teachings poured into Maximum Illud. He changes the purpose of the missions from the formation of new churches to the emancipation of those new churches, which means promoting episcopacy around the native
20priests. In the second part of his apostolic letter Rerum Ecclesiae (1926) he discusses the
foundation, consolidation and emancipation of new Christianities. In addition, Pius XI clearly
establishes the need to have a well prepared native clergy in order to constitute new Churches as
21well as making religious communities aware of the local wishes and circumstances.
As a matter of fact, the native clergy will prove to be most useful (more useful than some people
imagine in extending the Kingdom of Christ) (...) for since the native priest, by birth, temper,
sentiment, and interests is in close contact with his own people, it is beyond all controversy how
valuable he can be in instilling the Faith into the minds of his people. The native priest
understands better than any outsider how to proceed with his own people. Such being the case, 22he can often gain access to places where a foreign priest would not be permitted to enter.
Pius XI states that the people's Divine right to be led by a clergy of their own race and country is
23within the tradition of the Apostles. Moreover, with a prophetic vision Pius XI declares:
Let us suppose, for example, that either because of the fortunes of war, or because of certain
political happenings in a mission field, the ruling government is changed in that territory and
that the new government decrees or requests that the missionaries of a certain nationality be
expelled; or let us suppose - something which rarely, if ever, occurs - that the inhabitants of a
particular territory, having reached a fairly high degree of civilization and at the same time a
corresponding development in civic and social life, and desiring to become free and
independent, should drive away from their country the governor, the soldiers, the missionaries
of the foreign nation to whose rule they are subject. All this, of course, cannot be done without
violence. Everyone can see what great harm would accrue to the Church in that land in the
circumstances, unless a native clergy had been spread beforehand throughout the country like a
network and were, by consequence, in a position to provide adequately for the population which 24had been converted to Christ.
Also, this encyclical calls for increasing the number of regional seminaries doing so was the key plan to emancipate the local Christian communities from western powers. Later on, in a letter to the missionaries in China (1926), Pius XI explains a new idea worthy to be considered: adaptation. Hence, in a country with a rich culture, the missions cannot oversee the inhabitants’ traditions. In this sense, Pius XI gave his authorization to the bishops in Manchuria
25to allow their people to practice certain Confusian ceremonies.
The objective of building up a Christianity of quality -adaptable and strong enough to settle in the cultural and social reality of the local inhabitants- required two main steps. Primarily,
26it was to educate a native clergy and episcopacy; and then let them lead their own flock.
3. The “new Catholic missionaries” in Manchuria: the mission of the Augustinian Fathers
of the Assumption.
Both Popes Benedict XV and Pius XI gave a new élan to the missions as well as emancipating Christian missionary groups from the European countries and promoting missions to Asia and Africa in Europe and North America. Although both World Wars compelled many men to fight for their countries, missionary personnel grew in number. As it is shown in the chart below. During the period between 1933 to 1952, the number of European missionaries working overseas grew around 33% and that of North American missionaries was doubled.
27Number of Missionaries per country: 1933 and 1953.
Country 1933 1953
3,373 3,505 France
1,106 2,289 Belgium
941 2,229 Netherlands
314 2,001 Ireland
1,251 1,332 Italy
954 847 Germany
373 829 United States
860 779 Spain
285 709 Canada
241 549 England
159 362 Switzerland
In this time frame context, applying the new church philosophy can be best seen in the missionary activity of the Augustinian Father of the Assumption in Manchuria. This relatively young congregation, founded in 1850 by Manuel D'Alson, followed the principles and new guidelines that the Vatican had declared in the 1919 and 1926 encyclicals. They set and run well- prepared missions in Europe, America and Africa. In 1935, after signing an agreement with the Episcopal Vicar of Manchukuo, Monsignor Auguste Gaspais m.e.p., the first group of “Assumptionist missionaries” started their journey toward the far land of Manchuria in order to strengthen the missions that were already working. Six years later, they could gratifyingly say
that not only did they realize the most important issues of the 1935 agreement, but also they
28began and kept good relations with the Japanese authority in the Manchu state.
The mission of the Augustinian Fathers of the Assumption in Asia -at least during their early years- achieved three significant objectives: they shaped a new and solid Assumptionist community in Manchuria; they developed an ample net of Christian communities among the natives in the cities as well as in the countryside; finally, they built a regional seminary in the capital of the empire, Xinjing (Chang Chun), which hosted the future priests of the region. At this point, I consider it proper to analyse how these achievements where accomplished, since this is the only way to demonstrate whether the instruction of the popes had real influence on missionary enterprises.
In regional terms, Manchuria should not be confused with any other area where Christian churches attempted to spread the gospel. Manchuria had its unique position in the history of the twentieth century due to its strategic geographical position and its history. We cannot forget that the last Chinese imperial dynasty grew on these lands and overtook the rest of the Chinese territory forming the Qing Empire in the seventeenth century. Also, in the second half of the nineteenth century Manchuria was the subject of constant border problems with Russia, which thanks to its very skilful officials could manage to reach the Pacific coast and dominate
29 the south coast of the Amur River (and yet farther) for several years .Finally, Japan’s
growing interest in the region led to increasing its influence on it; first, in Korea and then in Manchuria which -as it was said in the introduction- was seized in 1931. As far as the religious sphere is concerned, it was in Manchuria where the long lasting struggle over the Chinese rites nature came to an end. After the creation of Manchukuo, the Japanese performed the cult of Confucius which was obligatory to all citizens. In response to that, the bishops of the area (headed by Monsignor Gaspais) studied the problem and gave their advice to the Pope who
30consequently set forth the program of toleration for Manchukuo (1935). Overall, from a
historical, political, social and religious standpoint, Manchukuo was a unique land which, by the time of the Assumptionists` arrival, had been going through a process of adjustment.
In order to fulfil the first two achievements of the new missionary guide, the Assumptionists had to count basically on their preparation in the native language, adaptation to the new environment (Manchu's customs, culture and particularly harsh weather), and their
natural skill to deal with congregations from different countries and cultures. Creating a Christian community in Manchuria was only possible on the condition that a majority of its members could meet these requirements. Thus, the preparation of the missionaries was the key element to the success of the mission according to the new standards of the Vatican.
The Augustinian Fathers of the Assumption, under the tutelage of the Society of Foreign Missions of Paris (SFMP), decided to begin their education from the very beginning of
31their mission, that is, the trip from Europe to Asia. There were two possible ways to travel from
Paris to Jilin (Central Manchuria): on the well-known Tran-Siberian train, or by sea on any of the commercial ships that were sailing through Europe up to East Asia. The former option had two main advantages: it was economical and shorter in time. So, a second-class ticket cost around 2000 francs, which was less than half the sea fare, and the total journey lasted on average eleven days, not even close to more than a forty-day ship trip. In spite of its benefits, this option was abandoned several times and none of the Assumptionist missionaries took a journey on this train on his way to Manchuria.
Therefore, it was travelling on commercial vessel which was the alternative chosen by the Church authorities for the five groups of Assumptionist priests who went to Manchuria. Despite the expensive price and time length, travelling using this means of transport allowed the new missionaries to visit different posts where they could have a throrough introduction to the missionary world. Most of all, three missionary posts were highly admired for its organization and size. Such places as the mission of Oblates of Mary Immaculate in Ceylan, the mission of the Society of Foreign Mission of Paris in Singapore and the mission of the Jesuits in Shanghai were always given a statement of excellence in L?Assomption and Lettre à la dispersion. At last,
analizig words of father Cyrille Parrate, the travel by ship was very important and useful because:
mais cette leçon de choses, cette vue directe des personnes et des oeuvres seront on ne peut plus
In the end, travelling by ship also gave them the chance of sharing experiences with missionaries from other congregations. On the ship each Assumptionist shared his daily life with different members of other religious congregations; from priests who were to participate in the mission for the first time to very experienced missionaries. The attitude of the latter towards the former group was open to share their experiences. Father Livier, one of the first Assumptionists
to go to Manchuria, wrote about his roommate: Un séminariste annamite qui, après trois ans au
collège de la Propagande, regagne sa patrie pour raison de santé. Nous faisons tout de suite bon
33 ménage avec lui.The cooperation among religious orders included, of course, the one between the Assumptionists and the Society of Foreign Mission of Paris.
Not only did the SFMP host the new missionaries in Manchuria, but also they supplied them with all the necessary instructions to proceed with their new task. During the first year after arriving in Manchuria, the new priest could not do anything else but learn the local language and assist the SFMP priest in teaching Latin or French in the Seminar of Jilin. While performing their tasks, the neophytes also had the chance of getting acquainted with older priests and learning from them. From a more global point of view, sharing experiences with different congregation-priests on board and during the first months in Manchuria was a school-like experience for the fresh missionaries Rien de bien saillant à bord, nous faison de plus en plus
34une bonne famille. Les Pères des Missions Etrangères sont charmant .
This sort of relation with different congregation priests (and countries) was a new element in the missionary project. Two hundred years earlier, the animosity among religious orders led to the suppression of the Society of Jesus and twenty years earlier -within First World War frames- to the open fight between priests of different countries. Therefore, this frank and amicable relationship between the Assumptionists and other congregations can be seen as part of a reform within the missionary Church where -as seen above- the good relation among Christian orders helps for a common aim: Asian conversion.
The requirements toward mastering the language were changing: accomplishing the language course with a minimum grade was enough to get a position in a foreign country; however, during the twentieth century only the priest who had reached the advanced level in the local language could be provided with an official missionary post. Therefore, during the trip as well as the first months in Manchuria, the Assumptionists were committed to studying (Mandarin) Chinese in their headquarters in Jilin.
For anyone who has ever tried to learn an Asian language, the first experience of the Assumptionists with the language might appear familiar: during the first months of instruction, despite the hard work and long time studying grammar and vocabulary, the feeling of impotence caused by not being able to speak it or to understand it overwhelms any student. However, I